BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WDRB) – It wasn't supposed to be this hard. Indiana jumped out to an 11-2 lead against a Nebraska team that not only came into Friday night's game in Assembly Hall on a two-game losing streak, but was also down to eight scholarship players after the suspension of starting guard Jevay Green.
The Hoosiers, however, are not known for doing things the easy way in their recent Big Ten history.
They could not pull away, gave up killer turnovers down the stretch and wound up in overtime after a Dachon Burke 3-pointer with 1 second left in regulation tied a game that Indiana had led for the final 16 minutes of the second half.
In overtime, the Hoosiers got seven big points from Rob Phinisee and a pair of interior baskets from Trace Jackson-Davis to close things out for a 96-90 victory.
"We’re fortunate, very thankful and also excited to win the game," Indiana coach Archie Miller said afterward. "At the end of the day, you’re playing a Big Ten Conference game in early December, our entire league is going through it right now, you play these games and it’s a different feeling. For our guys, to be able to go last Saturday to Wisconsin, then respond on Tuesday in New York and then be emotionally and physically taxed the way we were, just being ready to play the game and finding a way to win it, we’re very, very thankful."
Miller said earlier this week that, now that he has 11 players healthy and available, he wouldn’t hesitate to play all 11. He didn’t wait too long to do it in Friday night’s Big Ten home opener against Nebraska.
The Hoosiers went up 13-4 early and were up seven when Miller went to his bench for the first time. He had used 11 players before the game was 7 minutes old, which is about how long it took the Cornhuskers to erase their early deficit.
From there, the teams traded runs, took turns with the lead and in general raced neck and neck until Indiana used its inside strength to gain an advantage late.
Nebraska was short-handed after head coach Fred Hoiberg announced that guard Green had been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. The absence of Green, who was averaging 10.3 points and 4.9 rebounds per game, left Nebraska with only eight scholarship players.
The Huskers’ game plan coming in was to pack its defense in and entice Indiana to settle for long jump shots. In the first half, it worked. The Hoosiers took 32 first-half shots, 13 from 3-point range and 15 layups or dunks. The results were predictable. IU made just three 3-point shots and went 10 for 15 on the layups.
When Indiana got the ball inside, it created separation. When it settled, Nebraska climbed back into it.
But after the under-8 minute timeout, the Hoosiers were much more offensively disciplined. They got paint touches, drives to the basket and worked the ball inside to Trace Jackson-Davis and Justin Davis. Scoring at a higher percentage, the Hoosiers opened a six-point lead at the 5-minute mark, and after a stop and a Jackson-Davis score in the lane with 4:18 left, Indiana was up 71-63, and Nebraska had to call timeout.
"I thought Justin and Trace pounded late in the game and really did a good job around the basket," Miller said. "Our team in general embraced the glass, did a great job rebounding, one of our keys to the game. I thought we could get on the glass and that resulted in a ton of free throws, and that saved us on a night when we weren’t very confident shooting, or it just didn’t go down. But we’re going to have to shoot the ball better, make no mistake about it, there’s guys wide open and they’ve got to step up and make it.
A big 3-pointer by Thorir Thorbjarnarson kept Nebraska in it. And a turnover by Indiana — something that plagued the Hoosiers all game — helped the Huskers pull back within 73-70.
And it was a ballgame again. Up by four with 40 seconds left, Indiana turned it over on an inbounds pass, and Nebraska got it back. Then Al Durham fouled Dachon Burke on a made 3-pointer with 36.9 seconds left, and it was even more of a ballgame. But Burke couldn't hit the free throw, Jackson-Davis tiptoed the baseline for an athletic rebound and Damezi Anderson hit a couple of free throws with 36 seconds left.
It still wasn't over. Cam Mack drove for a layup with 13 seconds left, and Nebraska called timeout with its deficit down to one point.
Then it was Rob Phinisee's turn at the line and he made two with 10 seconds left. But Burke's three-pointer forced overtime.
Jackson-Davis led Indiana with 20 points; the freshman went 9 for 12 from the field. Smith and Al Durham had 14 each. Phinisee, after his overtime burst, finished with 16. The Hoosiers shot 47% for the game and made 5 of 7 shots in overtime. Nebraska stayed close in part thanks to a 21-10 edge in points off turnovers.
Burke finished with 25 for Nebraska, and Haanif Cheatham added 21.
"We can’t guard the ball," Miller said. "It’s like, guard your man. It’s as simple as that right now. We’re getting picked on on the bounce. Those guys really exposed us to start the game. Our guard play right now defensively isn’t very good. Just in general tonight we were very spaced out, very man-conscious and not very good from a positioning standpoint. Comparably, from how hard we played and what we had to do on Tuesday (against UConn), we were five steps too slow. Maybe that has something to do with the trip but there aren’t a lot of excuses when it comes right down to it. We’re going to have to do a better job guarding the ball. We’ve shown we can be better. But in our two Big Ten games in December, our defense has been shredded. Thankfully we were at home tonight, great crowd, and had some kids step up and make big plays at home, which is what you have to do. But basically, two out of our last three games haven’t been very good defensively."
The Hoosiers now get a week off before facing Notre Dame on Saturday in the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis.
"We played really late Tuesday against Florida State. Play at Wisconsin Saturday, then basically have 24 hours before you get on an airplane and deal with New York City," Miller said. "Then get home at 4:30 in the morning after a game in New York on a Tuesday, our players didn’t get to their dorm rooms until 5:30 in the morning. I know how I felt, then you’re trying to figure out how you’re trying to muster a game plan. Our biggest concern was our legs and our energy. I thought we got off to a really good start. Then we came with new bodies as the half continued to unfold, and it got away from us defensively tonight. And I don’t think it had a lot to do with energy in the legs. We just weren’t sharp. We weren’t good. We were very fortunate to win. Now we have some time to recover physically before we get back to work."
Copyright 2019 WDRB Media. All Rights Reserved.